Are you getting used to being isolated? Stephanie Jo Murck asks this question in her album hi, u by newly formed solo project bobby pin. Murck is a powerhouse singer, songwriter and guitar-player of the Minneapolis music scene. Separated from bandmates during self isolation, Murck formed bobby pin as a way to record and release music from home. The result is an innovative yet relatable album, featuring both angry and hopeful lyrics over guitars and synth sounds. The songs on hi, u (released on Bandcamp on April 4, after two weeks of writing and recording in Murck’s home) offer a peak into the songwriter’s anxious mind. Lily Marks spoke with Murck over email about recording the album, dealing with anxiety in isolation, and experimenting with new sounds and instruments.
Lily Marks: How did bobby pin form? How does the songwriting process for this project differ from writing songs with Sass?
Stephanie Murck: bobby pin formed as a result of my desire to release things that I recorded at home by myself. The biggest difference in songwriting is that in Sass generally I don’t write the bass, percussion or second guitar parts. Also it’s been a super fun space to play with harmonies, which is one of my favorite parts of music to experiment with as a vocalist. The last song on the record “person of habit” is actually going to be a Sass song eventually, and we had jammed on it a couple times at practice before the pandemic hit. Often I don’t even like my songs very much until I bring them to the band to get fleshed out, but it’s been a fun challenge to see what I can come up with on my own. Also I should mention, “choker,” “blake lively,” and “b slap me” will all be songs with my new band Claire’s Boyfriend, who has yet to play a show (our first show was supposed to be March 28).
SM: I started teaching myself to play guitar and write songs when I was 11 years old, but I kept it mostly private, just between me and my close pals. I was fearful of performing, but more so it took time to find people who I wanted to play with. The first band I joined was Tony Peachka when I was 22, as their lead guitarist. Back then I was still scared to even try doing back-up vocals, and I was new to playing lead guitar or electric guitar at all. Thankfully I learned so much so quickly by playing in bands. More than I ever did the whole decade prior of playing by myself. A year after joining Tony I had the itch to start my own band, Sass, and that has been the biggest growing experience of them all.
LM: hi, u is the first new release I’ve heard during the pandemic with songs that directly address the current moment. I keep getting “Are you, are you getting used to being isolated?” stuck in my head. In addition to social isolation, what themes influenced hi, u?
SM: Definitely anxiety. Anxiety about the state of the world and particularly our extremely corrupt government, being a busy body who needs to be productive at all times, feeling too attached to your cell phone, and fear of slipping into depression. But there’s also a lot of silly playful energy that went into these songs. “boss level” is about a dream I had, for instance. “my weird and sad past” is a comedic look at the weird thoughts you have when you have a new crush. “a look” is an outright love song that I originally wasn’t going to put on the album (out of feeling slightly embarrassed by its vulnerability), but then I wrote “don’t turn away from love” and figured I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t include it. “cell” is a snap shot of what it’s like to be in quarantine right now for me, but also it references the fact that this time is reminiscent for me of being a teenager with pretty strict parents, as well as being an adult feeling trapped by my own depression and anxiety, and how the skills I learned then are helping me through this time. In contrast, “person of habit” is about trying to use all the “right” coping mechanisms and healthy resources you can think of to distance yourself from the pain of losing a loved one, and ultimately coming to the conclusion that it might never get better when someone you love is gone. And additionally, in my opinion it’s never wrong to feel what you feel, even if that feeling is a painful desperate longing. I’m trying to use this time to face my feelings head on, and sit with them in a way I never have when I was keeping myself busy all the time. Finally, the theme of hope has always been important to incorporate into my music for me, because despite any circumstances, under the weight of any culmination of heavy feelings, there’s always hope.
LM: What has the process of writing, recording, and releasing music from home been like for you?
SM: It’s been a lot of fun! I made a little set up for myself in our bedroom, and I locked myself away in there pretty much all day every day for two weeks. I would mostly write as I go, starting with percussion from my little Yamaha synth, layering the other parts on top, and finishing with vocals. All these songs were done with my Tascam 4 track, so every song only has 4 tracks, with the exception of “cell” where I added one additional track for drums through the tape machine onto logic. One thing that took a lot of tweaking was trying to make all the songs a similar volume after putting them into logic from my 4 track, which I guess is my first and only experience with “mastering” of a sort. Once I was done with it, I couldn’t wait to release it, so I pretty much released it the next day after recording drums for cell with Dan.
LM: Tell us about recording the music video for “cell”. The song speaks to how most of us feel about being stuck at home right now, but there’s a hopeful tone at the end, and it’s sweet to see you and your housemates making your own fun in the music video.
SM: It was honestly so fun! I’ve never made a music video before and I’ve always wanted to, and luckily this came together so easily. It was a perfect warm sunny day to be recording outside, and the majority of the shots were taken in the last hour or so of daylight aka “golden hour.” I love vibrant colors, so I turned the saturation up all the way! I feel incredibly lucky that I have such fun and creative house mates to be cooped up with right now.
LM: You’ve played with a lot of interesting synthetic sounds on hi, u. I really love the bubble sounds on “my weird and sad past” for example. Could you talk more about your inspiration and process of producing these unique sounds?
SM: Honestly I was just playing around with whatever was around—on “my weird and sad past” I used my Omnichord and the bubble sounds on top come from a Korg Volca Bass my girlfriend Cleo has that I had never heard of or seen before that day. I couldn’t even tell you how I came to make the bubble sounds because I just toyed around with all the knobs until I found a sound I liked. It reminded me of video game sounds, which I loved because I’m a low-key gamer (lol). It’s been super fun to play around on unfamiliar instruments!
LM: In “choker” you ask, “who’s going to take care of me.” What does “taking care” mean to you right now? Is making music a part of that?
SM: “choker” is addressing the anxious and quick spiral of thoughts that is a big part of my daily life. A big way that I combat that anxiety is by taking care of myself and others, but sometimes I fear I’m on the edge of a breakdown, and it’s me wondering who will be the “me” to myself when I need it. But I would say music is a part of that definitely, music is both therapeutic to make and becomes something to look at and say “Well, this anxious busy body state of being that I can’t help but exist in can sometimes result in making art that I can feel proud of.”
LM: I’ve also really enjoyed your new release “11:11” from Sass. What can fans expect from Sass’s upcoming album Heart to Heart?
SM: Heart to Heart feels like a conversational album, hence the name. There are several more songs written by Willem for one thing, and more songs where we trade off vocals. The tone and feel changes a lot from song to song, and there’s a good mix of heavier songs and softer songs. Lyrically some of the things it addresses are navigating fear of co-dependency, exploring my gender identity and my relationship to “womanhood,” sex work, the urgent desire for a revolution, chemical coping mechanisms and trying to dismantle the performative nature of how we live these days.
Lily Marks is a writer from upstate New York.
You can listen to hi, u by bobby pin on Bandcamp.